Sunday, September 10, 2006


...Bindifry and I met downtown last night at the 'luxe India House restaurant. We ordered a couple of exquisite-but-expensive North Indian thalis (they were $17 or Rs 800; in Mysore they cost between 35 cents and $1.30). We were wearing bindis of course; Bindi had on a smokin' Indian top that matched her glasses and I wore my black-and-red sequined out-of-control salwaar dress ("Looking very nice tonight Madam"). After eating far too much we took the El ten blocks south to the Louis Sullivan-designed Auditorium Theatre, where I saw Frank Zappa back in '87.... or was it '88? He was ranting about censorship, as was Jello Biafra -- whom I saw the same week. (So was I, as a board member of the Illinois Coalition Against Censorship). Anyway, The Auditorium is an acoustically perfect architectural masterpiece that for some reason has been allowed to remain standing. The sight-lines are great and the seats are comfortable and it's one of the best places to see a show, hands down.

We were there to see superstar Bollywood playback singer Sonu Nigam -- as were all the other Salwaar and sari-wearing women and Hindu men in dress shirts and boys in baseball caps and Sikh men in turbans. As I wrote in this week's Reader:

"The songs in Bollywood musicals are usually recorded by faceless playback singers and lip-synched by actors. But 33-year-old playback singer Sonu Nigam is a face: he's released his own pop albums, acted in movies, and hosted shows on TV and radio. He's known for matching his baritone to a variety of actors and moods; recent hits include the melancholy duets "Mere Haath Mein" ("When My Hand Is in Yours") from Fanaa and "Tumhi Dekho Na" ("See It Yourself") from Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna. Earlier this year the "Elvis of India" shocked his fans by announcing that he's cutting back on his workload to improve his hit-to-miss ratio--he says only about a dozen of the 300 sound-track songs he's recorded in the past two years have become hits. Last month he self-released a patriotic song, "Yeh Rashtra Prem Ki Bhavana" ("This Land Is a Place of Love"), and he'll record an album he's called "a little more than just semiclassical" after he wraps up a ten-city U.S. tour. His glitzy stage show features singers Sowmya Raoh and his father, Agam Nigam, and 16 musicians and dancers."

Sonu did not disappoint.

The diminutive 33-year old showman with the amazing voice worked the crowd like a Bono-Boss-Elvis dynamo, dancing and gesturing and playing to the upper rafters as much as to the folks right in front of him. There was bhangra and ballads and even one really irritating schmaltzy song that reminded me of Bronski Beat. He also sang the female parts to some of his songs. It really kicked ass -- and how could it not, given that he had FOUR percussionists on stage. The eight dancers (two of which had bellies!) wore some *really* strange costumes but were amazing anyway. At one point Sonu removed his black-and-silver-jacket to reveal a low-cut, almost-feminine black-and-silver sequined tank top.

His massive hit list includes:

Fanaa - Mere Haath Me
Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna - Tumhi Dekho Na
Krish - Koi Tumsa Nahi.n
Krish - Pyaar Ki Ek Kahani
Fanaa - Dekho Na
Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham - Suraj Hua Maddham
Kal Ho Na Ho - Kal Ho Na Ho (Title Song)
Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna - Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna
Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham - You Are My Sonia
Salaam Namaste - Tu Jahaa.n

Like a master showman he stopped here and there to talk to the audience. At one point he told a long story in Hindi that was punctuated by joke-singing and had the audience in stitches. I figured he was poking fun at his early singing career, before he found his "voice" (apparently he used to sound a lot like Rafi). Bindi thinks he was talking about the acts he saw when he hosted Indian Idol. We could both be wrong of course; it could have been a flashback.

After two hours we'd made it halfway through the show and were too tired to stick around for the second half (the life of a yoga teacher and all that). By the end of the first half they had people waving their arms to the ballads, with blinking cell phones in their hands. You read it here first: cell phones are the new lighters.

It made me wonder what it must have been like to see Elvis at his peak.

Afterwards we drove towards Lake Shore Drive and past Buckingham Fountain, which was quite spectacular and still going strong (they usually threaten to shut it off right after Labor Day). As we drove north we passed fireworks at Navy Pier, and at one point the moon came out from behind the clouds and made an appearance over the lake.

And for a few moments at least the Windy City was a good place to be.



I tried to post Bindi's photos of the show but that CSer Blogger wouldn't let me. Click here to see 'em.

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